The race for at-large Place 5 on the Denton City Council features incumbent Deb Armintor, who has been in that office since June 2018, and challenger Rick Baria.
Armintor is known for her advocacy for human rights, increasing the city’s community resources budget and reducing homelessness in Denton. She is a tenured professor at the University of North Texas and serves on several committees.
Baria, a land planner and businessman, says he’s focused on infrastructure and quality of life. Baria has served on the Denton Zoning Board of Adjustment and two citizen tree-ordinance committees.
In September, he denied that he was responsible for erecting signs around Denton calling Armintor “dangerous” and listing her cellphone number in urging voters to reject her in the Nov. 3 election. Denton resident Dan Shea said he was responsible for the signs.
In her latest campaign finance report filed Thursday, for the period July 1 to Sept. 24, Armintor received $1,447 in contributions and spent $1,613. She also listed in a July 9 filing total contributions of $1,712 for the period of Jan. 1 to June 30, with expenditures of $33.83.
For the period between Jan. 8 and June 30, Baria reported political contributions of $5,550, and his expenditures were $19,032. He has made no additional campaign finance filings.
Armintor’s top donors are Richard Gladden ($650), Alan and Wanda Needleman ($500), Sandra Swan ($200) and Pam Gutierrez ($200).
Baria’s top donors are Dena Meek ($800), Craig Erwin ($500), Richard Hayes ($500), Phillip Gallivan ($500) and Julie and Richard Remski ($250). He also has received $3,000 from the Texas Association of Realtors PAC and lent his campaign $21,500.
Candidates took the time to answer three questions about the City Council. Their responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Born in: Copenhagen, Denmark (U.S. citizen)
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Brandeis University; Master of Arts, Rice University; doctorate in English literature, Rice University
Experience: Associate professor of English, University of North Texas; assistant professor of English, UNT
What are the most pressing issues in Denton?
In spite of the advances we’ve made over the past two years on City Council, I continue to fight weekly on the dais and off for such basic necessities as equity, transparency, accountability, respect and humility towards the public, better treatment of city workers and data-driven responsible fiscal stewardship.
The fact that I am still getting smeared for it as “dangerous” and “adverse” to the city — not only by my opponent and his supporters — but also by several council members and six-figure-salaried upper-level staff, is symptomatic of the undemocratic attitudes and resistance to progress that come from a broken government reluctant to hold a mirror to itself and fix what is broken.
We still have a long way to go to achieve the equitable democracy and open government that the people of Denton deserve. We still have a local government that resists the wisdom of zero-based budgeting and instead habitually underfunds community development, which is responsible for services and housing for Denton’s most vulnerable residents and communities, while overfunding an off-balance police department by bloating broken-windows police patrols and starving investigation, essential crime-solving lab work and victim communications.
How do you propose to resolve those issues?
If the people of Denton choose to reelect me, I will continue speaking truth to power in city government and representing the disenfranchised majority of individuals, families and communities with legitimate complaints about the status quo, instead of ignoring, tone-policing and gaslighting them with half-truths, disrespect and misrepresentations … masquerading as transparency.
I will continue to advocate for bottom-up budgeting to prioritize needs over wants and to question our habitual reliance on trickle-down economics and corporate welfare, which don’t trickle down and waste limited resources; empower local nonprofits that lift up the poor, while removing government-created barriers, red tape and bureaucracy that hold up the essential work our nonprofits do; resolve utilities access inequities, end shut-offs and the regressive credit-based deposit system and correct underrepresentation of local mobile home communities, hard-working immigrant families and their children, like I did for the resident homeowners and tenants of Green Tree Estates; push to maximize homestead exemptions and stay below the effective tax rate; and fight forced annexations and stand up against unjustified eminent domain.
I will also resist the expensive and counterproductive landfill expansion, while empowering our Solid Waste Department to promote zero-waste composting, reuse and reduction efforts citywide, while expanding recycling to apartments and local businesses; advocate for people with disabilities like I did when I called for the first appointed Council Advisory Committee on Persons with Disabilities; decriminalize marijuana and paraphernalia possession by making it lowest-priority enforcement; fight to remove obstacles for affordable housing like I did when I brought to council my proposal to eliminate permitting fees for affordable housing; advocate for legislation protecting veterans with housing vouchers, LGBTQ-plus people and people experiencing homelessness from discrimination in housing, work and access to services; advocate for a city public health official so we are not relying on the county for public health advice; support rehab, mental health care and senior-care group homes instead of subjecting them to unnecessary barriers and discriminatory treatment; and honor the memory of Darius Tarver, who was Tased and shot to death by city staff whose actions were justified by city leaders who should have been representing the public instead.
What makes you a better candidate than your opponent?
My opponent has a track record of advocating for his own financial interests and the private interests of the developers he represents in his public addresses to council and in his efforts to tailor our tree ordinance to suit those same developers.
By contrast, I have a track record of representing the people on council, on the Public Utilities Board and as a selfless community advocate long before I was elected to serve.
Born in: Denton
Education: University of North Texas
Experience: Land planner
What are the most pressing issues in Denton?
The long-standing chronic complaint is roads — their condition, congestion, construction and planning. Historically, Denton has spent too little on road maintenance, in some years an amount so low it’s fair to call it abysmal. We’ve reversed course, but a problem of decades isn’t fixed in a few years.
How do you propose to resolve those?
Maintenance set-aside? I asked once in a meeting: If roads have a typical life of 40 years, why don’t we set aside 1/40 of the replacement cost each year? “That’s what bonds are for, and money is cheap right now. We can’t pile up money for that long; besides we don’t have to do anything at all for the first 8-10 years. Repair costs increase at end.” …
A few years ago, the city hired a firm to use ground-penetrating radar to gauge the integrity of our roads and the supporting base material under them. It absolutely proved our neglect going back three or four decades. …
We must establish a permanent road fund and create standing expenditure protocols of road deterioration and traffic counts to justify repair and replacement, without endless political discussion.
We should raise our road specs to increase road durability. A [Texas Department of Transportation] study showed that just a few percent more in initial cost gave much longer roadway life. We should use flowable fill to backfill repair cuts. It does not shrink like the excavated soil. Notice the dirt divots and curb breaks from trucks. Let’s enlarge the inside radii for trucks. …
Nine out of 10 Americans walk for exercise or leisure. A good walk strengthens the body and calms the mind.
Walking trails are valued. All master-planned communities have them. Does Denton have a long-term plan for walking trails like a mobility plan for cars? We have been in the process with the parks board and staff.
Walking trails are a general benefit that improves quality of life and neighborhood stability. Several years ago, I studied two towns in Spain to gauge their success in bringing economic growth to their small cities. One spent big bucks on a flashy world-class museum to attract tourist dollars and confined their improvements to the area around the museum.
The other spent on many diffuse improvements designed to increase walkability and local services. They created a comprehensive, interconnected network of bicycle trails, complete with separate-from-automobile paths in the already built-up area. They also made it easier to begin construction or to rebuild existing structures.
The city that created a better ambience grew and did so in a more enjoyable way. The other did not grow. If you compare us to many other towns, some half our population, we are behind but working on it. So far, we haven’t connected all the pieces. I am creative with problems and have useful design skills for this work.
My vision for Denton is to move forward to reality. Denton can achieve better if we work together.
What makes you a better candidate than your opponent?
I have worked in real-world endeavors — landscaping, remodeling, construction, tree surveys, site plans and concept plans. Most of the items for approval before council are straightforward purchase approvals for physical things or development services.
After seeing someone lose a zoning case, I began to represent local property owners who had no buyer without rezoning. Since neighborhoods have an important part in the approval process, I learned that reasonableness, listening to neighborhood concerns and creative compromise were the essential elements for success. The all-or-nothing approach is for activism.
PAUL BRYANT can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @paulbryant_DRC.